Dennis Clements is one lucky guy. The Missouri native was approximately 250 miles off the coast of Elizabeth City, North Carolina, on his way to the U.S. Virgin Islands when his boat, the Gloria A Dios, was damaged in bad weather. At 1800 hours on Saturday, January 3, the wind was a steady 45 knots. The waves were 18 to 21 feet high. And it was snowing. He was attempting to get back to shore, and his EPIRB had been activated.
The Coast Guard coordinated with the U.S. Navy and determined that the aircraft carrier USS_ Dwight D. Eisenhower_ was in a position to aid in the rescue. The Eisenhower launched a helicopter with search-and-rescue crew after the Coast Guard C-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina that was on scene, notified the Navy that Clements sailboat had rolled, been dismasted, and was taking on water. Clements had been thrown into the water. The boat eventually sank.
The crew of the C-130 dropped two life rafts for Clements after the dismasting. He struggled for nearly an hour in the high seas to reach one of them. The C-130 then directed the Navy’s SAR helicopter through both snow and rain to the raft.
Lt. Cdmr. Scott Pichette, the helicopter aircraft commander, said the experience and professionalism of the crew made it possible to complete the challenging mission. “Most of us have been in [the Navy] for almost 18 years, and those were some of the biggest waves any of us had seen,” Pichette said. “Mother Nature threw bad weather, ice, snow and hail making it a stretch for us and the helicopter.”
The Navy crew arrived on scene and remarkably was able to locate Clements thanks to a signal from his pocket-sized, non-waterproof flashlight. They reached him about 0300 on Sunday, January 3.
Naval Air Crewman 1st Class David Brandon, the SAR crew chief, said the rescue swimmer, Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Kyle Need, completed the extraction despite the intense conditions, in only six minutes.
The copilot for the SAR mission, Cmdr. Byron Ogden, explained that while the conditions were treacherous, the cooperation between the SAR team and the Coast Guard made the mission a success. “This is honestly one of the most varsity things we could do as far as SAR goes,” said Ogden. “I didn’t hear one bit of panic in anybody’s voice; the whole crew was very calm, cool, and collected.”
Clements was treated briefly aboard the Eisenhower before being transferred to a Coast Guard helicopter and flown to an Elizabeth City medical facility.
“With those conditions,” said Brandon, “he was lucky he made it.” No one knows that better than Dennis Clements.
Click here for some eerie footage of Clements’ boat (before the dismasting) taken from the C-130.